Secretary of State Mike Pompeo openly admitted Monday that he asked President Donald Trump to fire the State Department inspector general—an official who is supposed to be independent from political influence—because he was not "performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to."
IG Steve Linick was reportedly investigating at least two State Department matters, including whether Trump violated the law with his emergency declaration last year approving billions of dollars in U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which Pompeo approved. Linick was "in the final stages" of the probe when Trump announced his firing on Friday, the New York Times reported.
The IG was also looking into whether Pompeo unlawfully required a State Department staffer to perform personal errands, such as walking Pompeo's dog and picking up his dry cleaning.
Pompeo told the Washington Post in an interview Monday that he was not aware that he was under investigation when he requested that Trump fire Linick.
"It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the president rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on or is currently going on," Pompeo said. "Because I simply don't know."
Critics said Pompeo's claim that he was unaware of Linick's ongoing investigations is highly implausible.
It’s not plausible that Pompeo would not know about an IG investigation *of himself* until “24 to 48 hours” before it’s done because the target of an investigation would be notified and interviewed. https://t.co/HBfpUzFdEE
— Laurel Miller (@LaurelMillerICG) May 18, 2020
During a press briefing late Monday afternoon, Trump confirmed that Pompeo asked him to terminate Linick and claimed he has the "absolute right" to fire inspectors general.
"I don't know him at all. I never even heard of him," Trump said of Linick. "But I was asked to [fire him] by the State Department, by Mike. I offered most of my people, almost all of them, I said, 'You know these are Obama appointees and if you'd like to let 'em go I think you should let 'em go.'"
"They asked me to terminate him," Trump continued. "I have the absolute right, as president, to terminate."
"Never heard of him. But they asked me to terminate him" -- Trump says he was asked to fire the State Department inspector general by Mike Pompeo. He then confused what he's talking about and says, "I did suggest in pretty much all cases you get rid of the attorney generals" pic.twitter.com/efERpcp7fr
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 18, 2020
Trump's firing of Linick at Pompeo's behest was the latest act in what critics have described as the president's ongoing "purge" of inspectors general and sweeping assault on government oversight.
Watchdog groups have repeatedly called on Congress to enact stronger safeguards against the firing of IGs, which currently have extremely weak protections under the the Inspector General Act of 1978.
"I spent too much time going through the legislative history of the IG Act recently and my main takeaway is that the Congress of 1978 never imagined the scenario we are in right now," tweeted Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight. "Trump has decimated the foundation of independent oversight within the executive branch."
The Atlantic's David Graham warned Monday that "if Trump's decimation of the inspectors general is allowed to stand—and there's no reason to believe it won’t be—it will remove one of the last remaining checks on the executive branch."